Part 3 of 5: Europe Today
In Part 1 of WSEH, I discussed the “Eur-Am” Connection, i.e. the context of European developments that preceded and paralleled American history and conditioned its progress.
In Part 2 of WSEH, I presented the idea of that European History is a fascinating world of values that can provide us with both emotional and cognitive fuel–provided that material is properly presented.
My focus in this installment is on how the history of Europe helps us to understand and respond to the Europe of today.
To begin, perhaps it is necessary to explain why understanding today’s Europe is even an important goal.
To some, the answer to Europe’s antipathy to America, to its sanction and even direct aid to our enemies through the United Nations and other channels, and to its general subordinacy in contemporary world affairs, is simply to ignore Europe–to go beyond an “America first” perspective in foreign policy to an “America only” perspective in the intellectual arena.
This is a mistake on many fronts–two of which I’ve already explained in parts 1 and 2 of this series, but it is also an error in at least two other related ways: 1) Despite Europe’s political subordinacy since WWII, European ideas continue to dominate the world. 2) Europe is not only the world’s largest supranational economy; it is a prototype for political supranationalism–a key model in international affairs that threatens the very existence of the United States.
Ever since the Age of Discovery (1415-1607), European powers moved out continually into the world and impressed their cultures upon it. The people of the Americas speak either English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. In Africa and Asia, one of these is almost always the second tongue. And this linguistic domination is merely a reflection of a deeper penetration of the world’s cultures by European thinking. Whether by direct imperial presence, or by means of trade and cultural exchange with European powers, the world’s people have all in some measure become “Western.”
To be sure, America has also played an increasing role in this Westernization, but the United States has merely picked up where Europe left off, and much of what we are know dealing with is the result of the European imprint. For instance, the leading classes among the people of the Middle East were mostly educated either in Europe, or in schools founded by colonial powers, or in schools patterned after those of colonial powers. Middle Eastern nationalism–a key factor in shaping that region–was imported from Europe, and adapted to its specific context. The same can be said of Chinese Communism and the various amalgamated forms of republicanism and socialism throughout Asia.
To be sure, Europe’s separate powers no longer occupy a leading role in almost any area, but it is not as separate powers that we must now contend with Europe. The latest ideological development in Europe’s political evolution is supranationalism.
To understand this latest incarnation of the European world is one of the important goals of studying European history.
By studying the story of Europe we learn that the European Union follows in the wake of nationalism, and internationalism–which themselves emerged from the disintegrated era of the “Balance of Power”–which followed the dissolution of Christendom during the Reformation–itself rooted largely in the oscillating fortunes of the Holy Roman Empire–which emerged from the ruins of the Frankish Empire–which was built over the ashes of Rome.
By tracing this plot-line and others we gain insight into Europe’s culture: Germany’s “Weltschmerz” (“world weariness”), French abhorrence of a happy ending, and wry British wit. We also uncover the reasons for Europe’s envy of America’s primacy in world affairs, and the reasons why Europeans constantly act to undercut America’s stature. But more importantly, we find the forces that have shaped current European ideology, which can help us counter it and refashion the “Old World” after the New.
To receive Part 4 of this series, be sure to sign up for the Powell History Mailing List.
To join the upcoming presentation of European History, a part of the acclaimed A First History for AdultsTM curriculum–starting July 18th–click here.